For about 8 years, I lived the life of an undisciplined low limit card counter. I had all the usual issues that keep guys like me from the big time. I struggled to make the large wagers when the count was high. I played too long. I chatted with management, drawing attention to myself. I didn’t hide my skills by using cover plays. It is guys like me, however, that casinos obsess over: weak, unthreatening and barely profitable hobbyists. As Bill Zender said: “Amateur counter wannabes and most semi-professional counters have no real long-term effect on your blackjack games’ overall performance and should be ignored.”
This is the story of some true professionals I saw play, when they happened to target the same table I was playing at. What followed was a performance worthy of an academy award, with the key actors starring in their roles as newlyweds.
The incident occurred in June of 2004, at the Mandalay Bay casino late on a Saturday afternoon. I was playing the liberal six-deck shoe game they were offering at the time. The rules included having the dealer stand on soft 17, re-splitting aces and late surrender. The house edge was about 0.28% off the top making it just slightly tighter than single deck blackjack. The cut card was placed at about 1 deck, so that 5 decks were dealt out between shuffles. If ever there was a game to beat in Las Vegas, this was it.
I sat at the game as the hours passed by. I was pounding through the shoes, spreading from a minimum of $10 per hand to my maximum bet of two hands of $80 each. I had my coffee, cream and sugar in front of me to keep me alert. Every time the count in a shoe went way south, I took a bathroom break. I was very impressed with myself and my slowly growing stacks of red and green chips.
At about 4PM a “newlywed” couple sat down at the table, making it me, one other person, and the two of them. They were friendly with everyone. The “groom” was dressed in a tuxedo and his new “bride” in her slinky wedding gown. Their Las Vegas “wedding” now a few hours old, it was time to hit the tables.
The groom bought in for $2000 in green and black chips. The bride sat next to him. Instead of playing, she sat there watching her new husband play with blushing admiration, asking him for instructions. The groom wagered a modest $25 per hand and without holding up the game, patiently explained how it all worked.
Two shoes went by with nothing great happening to the count. The groom’s $25 flat bets and explanations continued, while I put out a steady $10 per hand. The other player left the table, and it was just me and the groom playing. A new shoe began and almost immediately the count started to rise. After a few hands, it was time to raise my bet. I put out a bet of $25. Looking towards the groom, I saw him put out a bet of $200, saying “I feel lucky now.” Sure enough, he raked in a winning hand.
A couple of more hands went by and the count kept going up. I tentatively put out my $50 bet. The groom smoothly bet $1000. When the count went up again, his bride suddenly chimed in “I’d like to try playing a hand.” The groom said “here you go” handing her $1000 in chips. She put out a $100 bet. The dealer turned up an ace and asked if anyone wanted insurance. Like clockwork, the hansom groom advised his wife to insure. Kaboom! Blackjack.
About half way through the shoe it was time for my maximum bet. As I spread my wagers to two hands of $80, I looked over to the newlyweds – he had $2000 out, the table maximum, while she had a $1000 bet in front of her, asking her husband if it was okay to “gamble.”
Maybe it was just good luck, even card counters are going to have bad days, but for this particular shoe they won a lot more hands than they lost. He played several rounds at $2000, while she stuck with her $1000 top wager. On one particularly memorable hand, when he stood on a 15 against the dealer’s up-card of a King and she turned over blackjack on the other, I thought it was all over for them. Instead she screamed with joy when the dealer busted and gave her husband a great big kiss.
Good things have to come to an end and that honeymoon shoe was no exception. They did not win every hand, but they won enough. With a sudden change in demeanor, the groom announced that they were going to go celebrate their wedding. The dealer colored up slightly more than $11,000 and pushed the chips towards the happy couple. The groom winked my way and then the joyful newlyweds walked away arm in arm into the sunset.
I had never seen anything like it in my life. The groom spread from a wager of $25 to a wager of $3000 with the help of his new wife. In the course of a few minutes, they won over $9000. These pros didn’t just beat the house, they demolished it. But before I could catch my breath and ready myself for the next shoe, I got a tap on the shoulder. When I turned around, a man in a nice suit politely said, “Sir, we’re going to ask that you not play blackjack any more in this casino. However, you are welcome to play any other game.”